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Polyphenols and Their Uses


Polyphenols are what is commonly known as a structural class of either natural (this will mainly be the case) or synthetic and semi-synthetic organic chemicals that are characterized by the occurrence of big multiples of what are known as phenol structure units. The unique properties of the chemical, the physical as well as the biological (which, in itself is made up of toxic, therapeutic, metabolic and other aspects), properties of specific polyphenol class members will ultimately be determined by the characteristics and the number of phenol structures. The actual name comes from the ancient Greek word "polus" (now "poly"), meaning "many" or "much" as well as the word "phenol" which refers to the chemical structure that is formed by attaching to what is referred to as an "aromatic benzenoid" or phenyl ring. This ring is a hydroxyl (-OH) group much like the group found in alcohols (this is where the "-ol" suffix comes from). The actual term has been in medical and scientific use since approximately 1894.

When looking at the chemical structure of polyphenols, you will find that these structures are often limited to carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in various or undefined proportions. The preeminent structure will, of course, be the actual phenol unit. The substructures of these structures will have a number of different nomenclatures or aspects that depend on the number of phenolic hydroxyl groups. This is a shared aspect of simple and mid-molecular weighted phenolic dimers, as well as trimers, which are natural phenols.

When looking at a phenol, you will find that it refers to a substructure with a single phenolic hydroxyl group. When it has two groups, it can be a cathecol- or a resorcinol-type and if it has three groups, it can be a pyrogallol- or a phloroglucinol-type. Two group-types can also be referred to as "benzenediols" and three group-types as "benzenetriols."

Polyphenols will often be used as dyes, especially for non-synthetic fabrics. Other polyphenols, especially tannins, can be used in green chemistry as precursors in the production of plastics or resins through polymerization. Plant residues from olives, grapes or pecan shells can be used.


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